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German bishops to green light binding ‘Synodal Assembly’

By Ed Condon

German Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich speaks during a news conference at the bishops' spring meeting in Lingen March 11, 2019. (CNS photo/Harald Oppitz, KNA)

Berlin, Germany, Sep 5, 2019 / 12:02 pm (CNA).- The German bishops are pressing forward with a controversial synodal program, creating a new Synodal Assembly in partnership with an influential German lay group. The decision to proceed comes despite a warning from Pope Francis to the German bishops that they must remain in step with the whole Church.

In March of this year, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop of Munich and Freising and head of the German bishops’ conference, announced that the Church in Germany would embark on a “binding synodal process” to tackle what he called the “key issues” arising from the clerical abuse crisis: clerical celibacy, the Church’s teaching on sexual morality, and a reduction of clerical power.

In line with a draft document under development by the German bishops’ conference, which was presented at a meeting of the conference’s permanent council in August, the Church in Germany will proceed to form a new “Synodal Assembly” to address these issues. While the preamble of the statutes is still being drafted and a vote will need to be taken on the entire final text, the conference executive is proceeding in the synodal process with “absolute certainty,” sources close to the German leadership told CNA.

CNA has obtained a copy of the draft statues.

The text would create a “Synodal Way of the Catholic Church in Germany” which “aims to address and clarify key issues such as: ‘authority and separation of powers,’ ‘sexual morality,’ ‘the priestly mode of life,’ ‘women at the service of ecclesiastical offices’ over a two-year period.

The Synodal Assembly would be given the authority to pass resolutions in the name of the Church in Germany. The assembly will have up to 200 members, with the largest block, 70, coming from the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK).

German priests, religious, deacons, pastoral workers and other lay groups will also be represented. The 69 bishops who form the German bishops’ conference will be a minority of the membership. Each member – whether a bishop, a priest, or a layperson – will possess a single vote.

Article 3 of the draft statutes provides that:

“The synodal assembly is the superior body and has deliberative power. Members of the synodal assembly have an equal right to vote in decision-making matters.”

The statutes also clarify that resolutions must receive a passing vote of two-thirds majority of the Synodal Assembly, including a two-thirds majority of the bishop members.

The statutes also provide that resolutions “do not affect the power of the episcopal conference and of individual diocesan bishops, in the context of their own areas of competence, to issue normative acts and to exercise their proper magisterium.”

Article 11 of the draft statutes provides that “Resolutions that concern issues reserved for control by the Universal Church will be further transmitted to the Apostolic See.”

In June, Pope Francis issued a letter to the entire Church in Germany, warning the bishops against “plans and mechanisms” which could prove “anything but helpful for a common path” for the Church. The pope said that any “synodal path” would need to be the subject of careful reflection.

“What it means concretely and how it develops will certainly have to be considered even more deeply,” the pope wrote, reminding the Germans that synodality “means going out together with the whole Church under the light of the Holy Spirit.”

Francis warned that “the synodal perspective does not resolve opposites or confusions, nor does it subordinate conflicts to the decisions of a ‘good consensus’ that compromise faith, to the results of censuses or surveys relating to this or that subject.”

Despite the pope’s call for a deeper reflection on synodal mechanisms and a focus on faithful evangelization, senior sources in the German bishops’ conference told CNA that the conference is now in the final stages of completing the governing document.

The new Synodal Assembly would be presided over by Cardinal Marx, as the president of the German bishops’ conference, and Dr. Thomas Sternberg, the current president of ZdK. Each document and subject area will be treated by a smaller group, a “Synodal Forum,” membership of which  is determined by the co-presidents.

A completed version of the statutes for the Synodal Assembly has yet to be released.

Nevertheless, Sternberg and Marx have confirmed on the ZdK website that the Forum groups for three of the four subject areas have already been constituted and begun their work.

“The first three forums have already started work,” according to a July 5 quote jointly attributed to Marx and Sternberg from July 5, in the days immediately following the pope’s letter to the German leadership and faithful.

The membership of working groups assigned to develop resolutions on ”separation of powers,” sexual morality, priestly life, and the role of women in the offices and ministries of the Church, is also published on the website of ZdK.

“The aim of this forum work is to deliver the first interim results in the autumn, in order to prepare the actual synodal way. Our joint timetable states that we want to decide on the exact form of the Synodal Path in September and November at the respective assemblies of the German Bishops’ Conference and ZdK.”

The release of the interim reports is expected to coincide with the meeting of the Synod on the Amazon in Rome, in which members of the German hierarchy have taken a close interest and played an influential role in drafting the preparatory documents.

While the Amazonian meeting is intended to deal with a range of pastoral issues concerning the region, including environmental concerns, much focus has been placed on the proposal to permit a limited exception to priestly celibacy in the region by ordaining so-called viri probati, or married laymen deemed to be a proven worth.

Pope Fracis has insisted that the ordination of married men should not be the focus of the Amazon meeting.  But one German bishop, Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, who is vice-chairman of the German bishops’ conference, said in a 2018 interview that if the priestly ordination of married men is authorized for remote regions, German bishops will insist on the same authorization.

“This is obvious,” Bode said at the time. The bishop said that “pastoral emergency” in Osnabrück, his diocese, and other German dioceses, is “different but also very severe.”

Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen, who also serves as president of Adveniat, the Church in Germany’s aid organization for Latin America, has called the Amazonian synod “a point of no return” for the Church and that “nothing will be the same as it was” after the synod.

Pope Francis has instructed the German bishops that they must proceed in communion with the universal Church. The statutes for the Synodal Assembly make clear that the bishops intend to pass binding resolutions on matters touching universal Church teaching.

Recent statements from the ZdK indicate an expectation that the Synodal Assembly will become the principal forum for debating, and deciding, ecclesial issues in Germany.

The ZdK’s 2019 Plenary Assembly concluded that its agreement to participate in the Synodal Assembly was conditioned on a guarantee from the German bishops that synodal resolutions would be binding.

“The ZdK will actively and constructively contribute, as long as the openness of the deliberations and the bindingness of the resolutions are guaranteed by the partners involved in the ‘Synodal Way’.”

ZdK Vice-President Wolfgang Klose, who would have a senior organising role in the Synodal Assembly’s presidency, told the Central Committee’s membership in May that the Synodal Assembly can and would treat issues of universal Church teaching and discipline.

“It is not right to use the level of the global Church as an excuse not to comprehensively face concrete problems on the ground,” he told members as he recommended ZdK participation in the Synodal Assembly.

“This must not become a self-serving attempt to justify [the Church’s] behaviour. Rather, it is the universal Church that is realized in the local churches; she lives from the impulses of those people who strive to present the Gospel of Jesus in their concrete situations.”

Sources close to the German bishops’ conference have confirmed to CNA that, when finalized, the statutes of the Synodal Assembly will be made available in several languages. Several translations have already been prepared by the German bishops’ conference.

CNA spoke to several officials in different curial departments in Rome, all of whom said that the statutes for the Synodal Assembly have not yet been submitted to Vatican authorities for consultation or approval.

On Sept. 4, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Köln told his diocesan newspaper that he has concerns about the plans for the “binding synodal process,” noting widespread anxiety that the plans would fracture the relationship between the global Church and the German hierarchy.

Many Catholics, the cardinal said, fear “that we even risk the community with the universal Church and will become a German national church.”

Marx told reporters in July that “No German bishop, no member of the ZdK wants to leave the universal church, which is not an issue at all.”

“Reading the signs of the times in the light of the Gospel, that’s what matters,” Marx said.

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  1. Marx is an apostate. “His friend” Bishop Robert Zollitsch, former head of the apostate German Bishops’ Conference, already publicly declared his apostasy on TV on Holy Saturday 2009, when he denied that Jesus sacrificed himself on the cross in reparation for our sins.

    Marx is already in an alien cult. His suggestion about communion in the Catholic Church is utterly meaningless.

  2. “The decision to proceed comes despite a warning from Pope Francis to the German bishops that they must remain in step with the whole Church.”

    Of course! Because the same Bergoglio says it is an “honor” to have Americans “attack” him (by being “right wing” and ” Pharisees”and actually believing…in what the Church teaches).

    Of course! Because Bergoglio can now “accompany” the German Church, Inc…they may even get some more appointments that Bergoglio will “discern.”

    Things are accelerating here…towards the Amazon synod…and beyond…

  3. “On Sept. 4, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Köln told his diocesan newspaper that he has concerns about the plans for the “binding synodal process,” noting widespread anxiety that the plans would fracture the relationship between the global Church and the German hierarchy.”

    And just exactly where do the bishops who are pushing this “synod” get the authority to order around any German bishops who don’t want to participate in it, or who disagree with the resolutions? National groups of bishops may be a convenience for some things but as far as I know they are not actually a part of the structure of the Church.

  4. Cardinal Carlo Martini SJ’s [Archb Milan dec 2012] brainchild did not die with him. A year later his protege resuscitated the Synod idea as a working instrument designed in the mind of Martini to effect radical change by process of continued transference of power Pontiff to Synod. At first the 2014 family Synod seemed the reverse the Pontiff engineering the Synod’s outcome in lieu of the attending bishops preferences on family morality. Then Amoris Laetitia premises mitigation and primacy of conscience opened a pathway for open discussion on family values and more, especially in Germany Cardinals Reinhard Marx Walter Kasper leading. A key moment seems the Feb Synod on clerical abuse the Pontiff announcing that its findings would be binding. The shift of focus at that synod evasively turned from the actual problem at hand following the Archbishop Carlo Vigano McCarrick eruption and accusations of adult clerical homosexuality supporting networks alleged by the Archbishop to be covertly licensed by the Pontiff – to pedophelia. Two important dynamics came out of that Synod one that the Pontiff maintained control the other that a Synod could be binding. The obvious question is the link between an evolutionary concept of what a Synod is and the Vatican Amazonia Synod. German proponents designed the Instrumentum Laboris universally acclaimed by radical hierarchy particularly German and refuted by others notably Cardinal Gerhard Mueller former prefect CDF. He called it Apostasy. The Pontiff recently referred to the Cardinal as a well meaning child. The Germans Cardinal Marx leading not surprisingly unconcerned now embrace the concept of Synodality as independently binding. Cardinal Rainer Woekl Cologne in a recent interview addressed concerns of the makings of an independent German church. The Pontiff issued warnings called the German bishops to remain in continuity with the Church. There nevertheless is and it must be conscientiously assessed in his words, actions, permissions tacit or otherwise formation of a pattern and purpose. Pope Francis has the authority to suppress the German initiative toward dissolution of the Church. He must.

    • “There nevertheless is and it must be conscientiously assessed in his words, actions, permissions tacit or otherwise formation of a pattern and purpose. Pope Francis has the authority to suppress the German initiative toward dissolution of the Church. He must.”

      He must, indeed, but it was he who really encouraged the use of the “synod” term and advanced its concepts. But like most revolutionaries, the fire he set he may lack the water to douse.

      Germany…in the time of the Synod of Guastalla and later, that of Luther, the seat of chaos and doctrinal heterodoxy. And now this, where we have in essence an alter-Church with the Mammon to fund revolution all over the world. The more things change, the more they stay the same…

      • History as seen by many like ourselves Rod seems to repeat itself with the Luther Cardinal Marx similarities. Germany nonetheless has produced some great minds Josef Pieper a favorite stalwart of the faith more knowledgeable of Aquinas than most. We can’t dismiss deceased Cardinal Meisner, neither Brandmueller of the Dubia four, nor Gerhard Mueller’s stand against the New Paradigm of Pope Francis. By now we cannot attribute all that’s cataclysmatically occurring to peripheral causes like monetary interest, Marxist socialism, Germanic trend toward dominance. Focus on cause is the Roman Pontiff because he holds the reins and in all that has transpired the indications are he set the policy. Whatever his motivation I leave that to God. Philip Lawler on World Over spoke of a “sudden hard turn” toward the New Paradigm agenda, which is essentially repudiation of the Gospels handed on by the Apostles. Germany as said previously is the envisioned prototype for the future Church Amazonia the proving ground. How soon is perhaps up to our bishops most of whom seem to prefer to wait and see rather than take courageous, even obligatory action inherent in their divinely instituted office as Apostolic defenders of the faith.

  5. We read from the statutes of the Synodal Assembly: “The text would create a ‘Synodal Way of the Catholic Church in Germany’ which “aims to address and clarify key issues such as: ‘authority and separation of powers,’ ‘SEXUAL MORALITY,’ ‘the priestly mode of life,’ ‘women at the service of ecclesiastical offices’ over a two-year period” [caps added].

    Let’s pick just one: “sexual morality”? A broad smorgasbord even including “consenting adult” males?

    Ah, the IRONY of German ecclesial history. . . under MARTIN LUTHER the triggering event for his dismembering of the Church was the paperwork MERCHANT Tetzel’s granting of coin-in-the-cup indulgences. Indulgences that overrode any unwillingness to repent.

    TODAY, on the part of CARDINAL MARX, excommunication is automatically incurred by those who do not pay into the state tax cup the surcharge tied to any skipped-over “religion” identifiers on personal income tax returns.

    From YESTERYEAR, on the part of LUTHER, this less draconian and very ironic tin-cup detail from history:

    “Luther [still an Augustinian monk] was one day seated in the confessional in Wittenberg. Many of the townspeople came successively, and confessed themselves guilty of great excesses. . . Adultery, licentiousness, usury, ill-gotten gains [….] But what is his astonishment when these individuals reply that they will not abandon their sins?…….Greatly shocked, the pious monk declares that since they will not promise to change their lives, he cannot absolve them.

    “The unhappy creatures then appeal to their letters of indulgence [TODAY: binding synodal resolutions re a new “sexual morality”?]; they show them, and maintain their virtue. But Luther replies that he has nothing to do with these papers, and adds: ‘except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.’[….] ‘Have a care,’ added he, ‘how you listen to the clamours of these indulgence-MERCHANTS [see Tetzel, above]: you have better things to do than buy these licenses which they sell at so vile a price’” [a localized, politicized, and microphone-manipulated synodal head count?].

    (Merle D’Aubigne, DD, President of the Theological School of Geneva; HISTORY OF THE REFORMATION of the SIXTEENTH CENTURY, New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1850, Volume 1 of 4, Book III, chapter iii, p. 94).

  6. One wonders if this ‘synodality’ is not a manifestation of the ‘autocephalic’ principle in Eastern Orthodoxy. All so called Orthodox ‘churches’ are independent and pay mere lip service to the Oecumenical Patriarchate in former Constantinople.
    We have had anti-papalist, self-styled German Catholics before a tendency which inevitably led to ecclesial disruption and schism. Marx’ neo-lutheran agenda appears to be headed down the same path.

  7. So even Pope Francis is of the opinion ze German Bishops have gone too far and are at risk of schism. Personally, I think they are already in schism and should either repent or, failing that, be honest about their apostasy, find their own sect dedicated to political correctness, free love, socialism and Gaia worship, and stop trying to impose their disastrous innovations (which have all but destroyed the Church in Germany) on the Catholic Church as a whole.

  8. Sounds like a new German church. Satan is giddy with laughter thanks to a hoard of bishops. But of course according to the general of the Jesuits, Satan is only a symbol. The Church will stand but a large number of “catholics” and their leaders need asbestos britches. We pray.

  9. This of course is nothing but Marxism – that of Karl and Reinhard – as the culmination of the heresies of Martin Luther.

    The Amazon Synod is pretty clearly a front for advancing German heresies which will then be shown by the German leadership to have sprung up organically from “the people”. While Francis gave us the synodal concept in papal form, it may be that he never thought it would go this far, or, in some Peronist fashion, thought he could harness the energy of the Germans to advance his singular plan to revolutionize and radically alter the Church and Her teachings and doctrines.


    Now things appear to have gone, as with most revolutions, too far for any of the original instigators to control the ultimate results.

    It could be that we are headed for a “German Catholic Church” with its own self-declared neo-Magesterium and Cardinals, even those appointed by Francis, who split in their support for any Pope who might allow such a thing to exist without denunciation and…something we have not seen in centuries, the threat of an interdict. Indeed, this is not the first time Germany has been the source of a breach with or a turning away from the Church.

    In the event, Pope Francis may just have been correct in suggesting he could be the Pope that splits the Church. In those terms, there may be a silver lining in this cloud. That silver lining may come in the form of a purified Church, purified through the furnace of decision presented by choice to remain truly Catholic or to form up with those all over the world who insist on destroying the faith and who will side with the Germans to form a new “Catholic” “Church”. Many feel this would be the worst of all evils, but the question must be asked: “Since the Church now has lost Her moral stature and “Big Tent Anglicanism” now describes Her practice, would not a final split be preferable to the continuation of a House Divided where no one is at home and where the message of the Gospel is almost fully obfuscated?”

    We shall see.

  10. I hope that other bishops declare that they are not in communion with the German bishops who go along with this schism. If they want to be Lutheran let them go, they are already 90% there. Francis has led us to the point of this schism. He needs to take stock and realize that he could do damage that will last 500 years.

    German bishops, I know you don’t care but if you do this I will not recognize your authority when I visit Germany. I’d rather go to a SSPX parish even though I am not a member.

  11. We read: “The statutes also clarify that resolutions must receive a passing vote of two-thirds majority of the Synodal Assembly [the assembly of 200—consisting of priests, religious, deacons, pastoral workers and other lay groups, such as the activist Zdk faction with 70 of the total seats!], including a TWO-THIRDS MAJORITY OF THE BISHOP MEMBERS [69 seats].”

    APOSTOLOS SUOS—On the Theological and Juridical Nature of Episcopal Conferences (Pope John Paul II, 1998)—provides that “…If (this) unanimity [among conference bishops] is lacking, a majority alone of a Bishops of a Conference cannot issue a declaration of authentic teaching of the Conference to which all the faithful of the territory would have to adhere, unless it obtains the RECOGNITIO of the Apostolic See, which will not be given it if the majority requesting it is not SUBSTANTIAL.”

    Three questions:

    Are “two-thirds” of the conference bishops “substantial” enough to petition the Apostolic See?

    Considering the proposed curial reforms (e.g., possible muting of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) and regarding the Recognitio requested from the Apostolic See, does “silence” (e.g., re earlier, Amoris Laetitia fn. 357) mean consent?

    Is swamp-like ambiguity on the above two questions to become the paperless working definition of a synodal/polygon Church?

    • Where do you get the idea that practicing homosexual priests are no problem?

      Even those who cooperated in the evil of homosexual priests by covering it up recognized that it was wrong or there would have been no need for a cover up.

  12. Why is it always GERMANY! Luther, 1st WW, 2nd WW and now in the One True Church! These “good, faithful, practicing Catholics need to ponder that phrase the “One True Church”. If they want to “take over” the “authority” given SPECIFICALLY to Peter they need to 1) withdrawal from the Catholic Church, 2) leave the premise on which they live, 3) turn in their last paycheck, 4) dress in the street clothes they may have, and 5) LEAVE! LEAVE, PERI0D! They are simply NOT CATHOLIC!

    • [“Why is it always GERMANY!”]

      Charlemagne (742-814 A.D.) was convinced that God only heard prayers said in Latin. But his effort to impose a consistent form of Latin across his realm already was behind the curve. Budding new local languages, too.

      Five centuries later, and especially of Germany, Charles V of France (1337-1380) once said: “I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men, and German to my horse.”

  13. The homosexual priests, Bishops and Cardinals want to normalize homosexuality. The bottom line purpose of allowing married priests is to allow homosexual priests to marry each other. This is what the Episcopal Church allows. Since only 7 out of 10 Catholics believe in the Real Presence, that would include the clergy, then all homosexual clergy should leave the Catholic Church to the Faithful and join the Episcopal Church.

    • Diane the horrible awareness you express is also my own. Nothing can be more indicative of Satanic influence within the Church nothing more egregious to invite divine retribution. All the more reason why the faithful must be realistically aware and prepared for fighting “the good fight”.

    • Right after the state of Washington enshrined into law the oxymoron gay “marriage,” in 2012, a young woman in the Seattle area donned the veil and “married” a landmark brick building that had captured her affection.

      A harbinger of inclusive gender theory and transgenderism—the only difference between a woman and a man is the plumbing, and even this can be remodeled like any kitchen or bathroom.

      And at about that time there was another case, in Brazil (Amazonia!), of a polygamous marriage among three parties, which was given legal recognition. A similar application in the United States came less than a week after the Obergefell v Hodges ruling (fatwa) in 2015…

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